An Evening of Odes to Prof J.P. Clark

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Literati in Lagos converged on Harbour Point, Victoria Island with the distinguished Old Boys of Government College, Ughelli, to celebrate the lasting legacies of the poet-playwright, Prof. J. P. Clark. Rebecca Ejifoma reports

A colourful event awash with tributes was witnessed at the lagoon-side venue, Harbour Point marque in Victoria Island. At the close of business last week, the literati in Lagos gathered to savour the sweet taste of poetry in honour of one of the finest poets of the post-independence era, Prof. J.P. Clark. The half-filled hall was reverberating with the voices of friends of the poet who trickled in to read their lines from the works of the poet.

Dignitaries at the event include Jimi Agbaje; Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru; Prof. Hope Eghagha; James Ibori; and Sam Omatseye amongst other families and friends.

Organised by the alumni of the Government College Ughelli Old Boys Association (GCUOBA), the event was full of accolades for the poet who was described as “a very simple and forthright person” who “ran a good race, lived a good life.’’

Though physically absent from the event, the Nobel Laureate and contemporary of the poet, Prof. Soyinka, in a tribute with a witty title, “Song of a goat pepper-soup,” characterised the temperament of the late poet as “deep poetic sensitivity with an intense political discontent, frustrations from a nation that constantly short-changes itself.”

Soyinka’s tribute was read by a former Edo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Charles Uwensuyi-Edosomwan (SAN), who would later share a tribute of his own. Also, an Old Boy of the College, Chief Uwensuyi-Edosomwa(SAN) described Clark as an integral member of the GCUOBA family.

“There is that contributory side of JP Clark that is closed to many: unresolved mix of a deep poetic sensibility with an intense political discontent, frustrations from a nation that constantly short-changes itself. Such companion unease tends to manifest itself in inner turbulence that takes vengeance on justly bewildered heads, even without apparent provocation, Those who wish to delve deeper into, or dispute this, should simply remind themselves of his role in the saga of the first military coup in Nigeria, his intimate association with Christopher Okigbo one of our pioneer ‘literary quartet’ who perisheq on the war front -constantly punctuated by interspersed lyrics of a compulsive testifier. JP never gave up, check on the series of poems he published in The Guardian during his final years!”

In his remark, the President, GCUOBA Lagos Branch, Mr. Sam Omatseye, hailed JP Clark as “extraordinary in conversation, extraordinary in presence, and even in death, he is extraordinary.”

The Chairman and CEO, Guardian Newspaper, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru recounted how the late poet brokered peace between his younger brother and her husband. “That is who he is. He would speak the truth regardless”.

Another friend and close family, Princess Juliana Edewor, described the late poet as a father, mentor, friend, icon, and intelligent man who always enjoyed their arguments.

“He stood as my father when I got married again after the death of my husband. He wrote two poems in honour of my two husbands,’’ she said.

The daughter of the late prof, Ms. Emma Clark also eulogised the writer. “He was very loving person, very sensitive. That sensitivity lasted till he died.”

She recalled some of the final moments with him in a solemn voice. “I was crying in my room one night. I was worried about him. I didn’t know he heard me. He asked me what the problem was. He was concerned about me. He didn’t know I was more concerned about his health. He said to me, ‘I don’t want to see your weakness. I want to see your strength’. I thank God for using him to make us all strong.”

Clark’s eldest child, Mr. Elaye Clark, shared similar sentiments about their father. “Around 2008 when I visited my father in our hometown, he took me to his school. He showed me around. We walked for about an hour. That was when I found out my dad loved cricket. He said he played cricket when he was younger. He was extremely proud of his school. My father cared so much for people. He didn’t pretend that he knew it all, but defended whatever he felt was right.”